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Columbia Star Dinner Train, MO. October 15, 2011 by

Columbia Star Dinner Train

October 15, 2011

By Carl Morrison,

Link to this story:

Polished like a classic car, F-7 No. 1950 was head end power for the first half of the excursion.

Dinner Train has Unexpected Drama.
    "Before detraining, please have your ticket in hand.  Someone may have boarded the train when we were stopped halfway through our trip this evening."

    With ticket in hand, while waiting to conclude the very enjoyable evening on the Columbia Star Dinner Train; through the windows we could see a Police car racing away from the Station.  Inquiring Minds wanted to know, and verbal opinions began to be form.  "I guess they caught the guy.  "Boy, can you believe someone tried to board the train!  "You know, they have a holdup on the Grand Canyon Railway, but no masked cowboys came through the train asking for money this time.  I wonder if each ride ends this way."

    After our trip, I contacted the General Manager of the Columbia Star Dinner Train and he said they could not say anything at the time because the real drama was continuing.  It seems there was an armed robbery along the route of the train and police feared the culprit might have made his getaway by boarding the train.  Of course, this would have been virtually impossible and the likelihood of an armed robber blending in with the passengers, even if he had boarded, was even more remote...more like a Hollywood plot.  As it turned out, the robber had been found in a corn field near the tracks.

    Looking back on the incident, I'm glad no more was said by the staff.  We all left feeling safe and comfortable and with satisfied appetites, and with a unique situation to tell our friends about that no other Dinner or Tourist Train has actually experienced to my knowledge.  So, the story has a "Happy Ending" as we expected when we started out Columbia Star Dinner Train.  It is to the staff's credit that the situation was handled professionally.  Or, as fellow Field Reporter, Chris Guenzler, always says, "Every train trip is an adventure!" 

    Fellow Passenger that evening, Ben Myers, when I related the conclusion of this 'Cornfield Bandit' story said, "Well how about that!  Jesse James is still going strong and jumping trains - our train!  Good thing you and Matt weren't mistaken for the Younger Boys.

Ride and Dine on the recently opened Columbia Star Dinner Train

    There are at least two reasons to ride a dinner train:  The Train itself and The Dinner you'll enjoy during the ride.  I found both reasons satisfying as I rode the Columbia Star Dinner Train on Saturday evening, October 15, 2011.  I came to Missouri, specifically La Plata, on the Amtrak Southwest Chief from Southern California, finishing my nearly 2,000 mile/45-hour ride earlier that same day.  The Rail Travel Writing and Photography Workshop, held at the Depot Inn & Suites in La Plata, MO, was the reason for the trip.  I was a co-presenter of the workshop where I handled the photography portion and Henry Kisor handled the travel writing portion.  I had planned it so I would arrive in the morning and ride the Columbia Star Dinner Train that evening.

    The round-trip route runs between Columbia and Centralia, Missouri, and takes between 2.5 and 3 hours.

Evening Dinner Train

    Departure 7PM (Every Friday and Saturday)
    Dinner train boarding begins 30 minutes prior to departure.

    Tickets are $69.95 per passenger plus Missouri Sales Tax.(Price does not include gratuity and drinks)

Dinner train guests will enjoy a 2 1/2 - 3 hour ride onboard a classic passenger train from the golden years of train travel. Enjoy a fresh, onboard, Chef-prepared four course meal as you travel through the scenic Missouri countryside. Choose from our current month's beef, seafood or chicken entres. This four-course meal features an appetizer, the house salad, your entree selection, all topped off with a deliciously prepared dessert.  Popular imported sparkling and mineral waters and a well stocked bar are made available at reasonable prices.

The Equipment

The Columbia Star Dinner Train is comprised of two locomotives and three cars. A locomotive is located on each end of the train so that the train may operate in either direction. Our F-7 locomotives were built by the Electro-Motive Division (EMD) of General Motors in 1948 and 1953. These locomotives were originally built for the Great Northern Railroad.

The dining cars were built by the Pullman Car Company in 1938 for the Southern Pacific Railroad as coach cars. Later they were converted to dining cars for dinner train service. Originally these cars served on the famous Southern Pacific train named the "Daylight" running between Los Angeles and San Francisco. These cars are unique in that they are articulated, meaning that they share a set of trucks (wheels) between the two car bodies.

Our kitchen car is a former Chicago Burlington and Quincy (CB&Q) baggage car. This car has been converted to a full kitchen in which we prepare all of our meals right onboard the train. The kitchen car is in the middle of the train so meals are served out of both ends of the car to the adjoining dining cars.

--From the Columbia Star Dinner Train Website (Link at the end of this report.)  

    I made sure to arrive early to have time to photography the rolling stock and talk with the staff, knowing that it would be dark once we returned.  You might see more locomotives than just the Columbia Star's two F-7s.  I found the Columbia Terminal Railroad (COLT) EMD GP9 No. 2001 tied up next to the Dinner Train at 6501 North Brown Station Road,  Columbia, MO 65202-9324.

(Click any photo below to see a double-sized copy on your screen; Click BACK in your browser to return to this page.)

EMD GP9 No. 2001 and F-7 No. 1950.

Front view, left, back view above.

EMD GP9 No. 2001

Pulling us back would be F-7 No. 1951, attached on the opposite end of the dinner train from No. 1950.

EMD GP9  No. 1951, our Head End Power on the return trip.

Inside the Columbia Star Dinner Train

After taking the above photos of the exterior of the train, General Manager, Greg, welcomed me aboard the single dining car behind the galley car for photographs.  There I met staff who helped with the still life shots of the car as they prepared for the soon-to-board passengers. 

I had seen Mark, below, when I was outside, and when he appeared inside, I asked, "Are you involved with the train?"  He answered, "Yes, I'm the owner."  I asked Mark about the success of the venture and he said he was very happy.  Beside the regularly scheduled Friday and Saturday evening runs and the Sunday Brunch run, he said the mid-week excursions were doing well.  On these excursions you can rent a rail car for your group, or the whole train of 3 cars.  .

Mark Vaughn, Owner, and Engineer on this trip.

A typical four-top table with optional flowers.

Service area at the end of the dining car.

Full length of the dining car.  Guests arrive at the far end.

Attentive staff await arriving guests.

When I finished my pre-ride photos, the guests began to arrive, so I exited the train to take some more photos.  A Missouri Sunset was taking place with the best part of the sky being the east.  I quickly made some photos of the Columbia Star Dinner Train with a more interesting sky compared to the earlier shots in this report.

The Columbia Star Dinner Train and the eastern sky just before departure.

The Columbia Star Dinner Train and the eastern sky just before departure.

Guests watching the evening sky while checking in with Amando for their table number.  No need to hurry, tables are pre-assigned by group size with 2 to 4 per table.

The loading area clearly identifies where guests should go from their parked automobiles.

Amando Garcia III and his welcoming smile receiving dinner train guests.

Let the Dining Experience Begin

It was after sunset when our dinner train started its move eastward.  It was soon apparent what Mark had mentioned earlier, that on most night train rides, all you see out the window is your reflection.  However, Mark had the forethought to install bright exterior lights on the rail cars which are directed to the sides of the train.  Being located in rural and suburban Missouri, the lighted view from the train was mostly broad leaf trees and an occasional grade crossing.  It was much better than the typical back yards seen from most Amtrak trains.  At one point, we saw two deer dining on field corn lighted by those exterior lights.

Once underway, drink orders were taken by our attentive waitress, Lilly.  Soon thereafter, our appetizer arrived followed by all parts of the four-course meal.

Yours Truly, left, with our son Matthew.

Lilly serving a beverage to Ben "Dutch" Myers'.

Smoked salmon BLT.  Mixed greens, cherry tomato, carmalized red onions.

Spinach, onion, croštons, apple, almond with country mustard vinegarette

My Entree.
Salmon, asparagus, mashed potatoes with tomato sauce.

Matt's 'flavor-injected' Prime Rib.

Pumpkin pie with pecan and chocolate topping.

A couple of tweaks needed by the Columbia Star Dinner Train

When I initially contacted the Columbia Star about taking this ride, I found that the only way to talk directly with anyone was through a 'leave a message and we will call you back' system.  This worked, but only after waiting over the weekend...their reservations offices are only staffed Monday through Friday, 8 hrs. a day Missouri time.  This system is not conducive for those who work those times and make most of their travel plans on the weekends or live in different time zones.  In fact, they do not have an e-mail address on their website where you could get the initial conversation started and questions asked before the first one-on-one phone conversation.  They do, however, have a form on the site for typing in your questions.  Additionally, the call-back person taking my reservations could not answer my Press/Media questions so responded with, "I can't make that decision, but I'll have someone call you back," which never happened.

When you see photos of the food presentation during dinner, or of the dining table settings before guests arrive, what is your impression?  Mine was, "Where's the color, everything is bland white."  White table cloths, white napkins, white dishes.  I mentioned this to James D. Porterfield, Railroad Dining Historian, and he mentioned that since the train is painted in the Wabash colors and logo, why not have Wabash china, replicas of which are available.  This would make the dining room and place settings much more appealing, and much more in line with the nearly $80 a plate cost plus any drinks other than water.  Plan on $100 per person with drinks and tip.

After returning to Columbia, we drove north on Hwy. 63 to our accommodations for the coming days of the Workshop.  We all have pleasant memories and satisfied appetites after our ride on the Columbia Star Dinner Train. 

I recommend the Columbia Star for anyone who wants to put on their Sunday Best and enjoy a special occasion aboard a classic train.

  For a Slide Show of all images in this report, in large format, Click Here.


Other Web and Print reports on the Columbia Star:

Historical Content about the Columbia Star with photos:  Columbia Star Dinner Train Inaugural Run  July 15th, 2011  By Bob Cox

A Railfan rides the Columbia Star with photos of the countryside during the ride:  The Columbia Star Dinner Train 7/16/2011

A Fact-Filled Article:  The Columbia Star Dinner Train is now open--Feast on a four-course meal on the tracks  By Waqas Naeem  July 28, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST

Trains and Hotels in NEMO (Northeast Missouri):

Home Page of the Columbia Star Dinner Train, Columbia, Missouri.

Our 'home' during the Workshop and after riding the Columbia Star:  Depot Inn & Suites, La Plata, Missouri, north on Hwy. 63.

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